Presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music at the BAM Harvey Lichtenstein Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NYC, June 10-14.
In Swedish, truth is "sanning," lies are "lögner." Over and over those words tumbled on themselves (via headsets conveying a simultaneous English translation) in director Ingmar Bergman's mesmerizing version of "Ghosts" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Stripping Henrik Ibsen's 1881 play down to an exercise in nasty one-upmanship, Bergman exposed the skulls beneath the skins of characters crippled by convention.
Ibsen's tale of sham lives has always contained its terrors, of course. Syphilitic son, fire-destroyed orphanage, incipient incest, power, and blackmail course throughout like a rancid river.
But this production also added blatant language, a climactic suicide, and an odor of Strindberg that made the evening resemble "Long Day's Journey into Night," a not-inconceivable alliance, since Eugene O'Neill was a staunch Strindbergian. Bergman even wrote in a nasty woman-to-woman confrontation scene reminiscent of Strindberg's "The Stronger."
On designer Göran Wassberg's funereal turntable set, a void gloomily lit by Pierre Leveau, furniture disappeared bit by bit. So, too, did Anna Bergman's handsome, buttoned-up period costumes, until Helene Alving was left in a revealing chemise while Oedipal son Osvald got down to his altogether, making his cry for the sun a moment of naked poignancy, literally as well as figuratively.
Pernilla August was a sardonic, calculating, haunted, sensual Helene, while Jonas Malmsjö was a vigorous, angry Osvald, his chalk-white face and red scalp scar harbingers of his death. Angela Kovács was a sexy, self-centered Regine, with Örjan Ramberg a quietly vicious phony as her supposed father, Jacob. Although appearing older than usual interpreters of the role, Jan Malmsjö was empathetic as the self-righteously pious, pitiably frustrated Pastor Manders.
True, the first act's long expository scenes were static. But, by the second half, hitherto controlled passions erupted and, in Bergman's hands, the finale packed a wallop.